Salvia africana-lutea is an aromatic, hardy shrub with unusually coloured flowers borne over a long period. It is fairly fast-growing, up to 2 m and very attractive to wildlife.
Flowering begins in early spring, and the bright yellow flowers soon fade to rusty-orange and then reddish brown. The flowers are both attractive and a curiosity. The flowers contain a lot of sweet nectar which attracts bees and moths, and acts as an essential food supply for sunbirds, particularly when proteas are not flowering. The flowers are complimented by greyish-green, aromatic foliage. Altogether, this is a very worthwhile addition to one’s garden.
The name is derived from the Latin word salvere meaning to save or heal, and refers to the medicinal properties of some species. The first part of the specific epithet, africana-lutea, describes the plant’s origin, and the second part describes the yellow colour of the emerging flowers.
The distribution of S. africana-lutea extends from the coast of Namaqualand to the Cape Peninsula and eastwards from there to Port Alfred. In its natural state, it grows not far from the sea and is often a common constituent of the vegetation on coastal sand dunes.
A number of the blue and bronze groups of butterflies use salvias as larval host plants. Salvias’ method of pollination is quite crafty: hidden in the hood of the flower is a clever lever mechanism of the stamens; when an insect crawls in at the mouth of the flower, looking for nectar in the flower base, its head pushes against a sterile part of the stamen, which pushes the anther downwards and rubs some of the pollen off onto the insect’s back. When the stigma is mature, it bends down and blocks the way of the insect visiting the flower. If some pollen of another flower is already on the insect’s back, it rubs off against the stigma and results in cross-pollination.
Apart from attracting wildlife, brown sage makes an excellent tea for coughs, colds, bronchitis and female ailments (pour 1 cup of boiling water over a short (7 cm) sprig of leaves, stand for 5 minutes then strain and drink sweetened with honey. The leaves are lovely for use in potpourri as they retain their shape, colour and much of their fragrance, and mix well with other ingredients.
The sage family is a very large one characterized by square stems and aromatic leaves. Other popular plants of this family are mints,Hemizygia sp., and Orthosiphon sp. The common name “salie” is applied to many other trees and shrubs with sage-like leaves.Over 1 000 species of Salvia are found in all the warm temperate countries of the world, consisting of annuals, perennials, biennials and shrubs. Of these, 38 are widely distributed in South Africa.